Sunday, January 08, 2006

Going Postal

Since I'm sure we've all made New Year's Resolutions involving not only physical health, but also FISCAL health, I thought I'd contribute to your financial well-being with this great idea I had for saving money. Aside: when I was in college I was in charge of the newsletter for our living group, which happened to be a chapter of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority. Even then my writing style was snarky. Anyway one of our goals was to save money, namely because any "saved money" on mundane things such as electricity could then be used for wonderful things like parties! So each week I would publish what I called a Pseudo-Energy Saving Tip, or PEST, that would help us cut down on the electric bills. Such as, wash your hair, then visit someone in the dorms and use her blow dryer! Well you get the idea. So it is in the spirit of my PEST tips that this great idea came to me. With first-class postage jumping two pennies to 39 cents today, I was thinking we as USA citizens should try to beat the increase. I will readily admit that publishing this suggestion TODAY makes my idea not only a day late, but the equivalent of an unsolicited opinion (two cents) short. But I wanted to share anyway, because I'm so enamored with my idea. Here goes: We push as much of our 2006 mailing into the first week as we can, in order to retain the 37-cent rate. Simple! But it will require ingenuity to make it work. First, obviously you don't pay your BILLS early. There is nothing money-saving about that, unless you are prone to late fees. It's the correspondence that can really reap you some big savings. So drag out that address book or event calendar and count up all those birthdays, anniversaries and weddings that might be coming up. Buy the number of cards you will need for the birthdays and start firing them out! The people born in February will marvel at your incredible efficiency. The people born in March through July may consider you a tad eccentric. Those born from August through October may wonder if you're on some funkily-interacting medications. And anyone born in November or December will assume this is a BELATED card from 2005. So be sure to mark very clearly on the card that you previously sent your 2005 card, and that THIS card is to be counted toward your 2006 obligation. This should give some of your recipients added joy, as they realize they are NOT already (fill in dreaded advanced age here), but still have a number of months to enjoy being only (fill in too-old-to-be-believed-but-heck-it's-younger-than-anything-you'll-be-turning-in-the-future). The next obvious money-saver will be getting your entire holiday card list taken care of 11 months early. No one can argue with getting a head start on Christmas. I'm sure you know people who are buying half-price holiday decorations for next year, or are stocking up on wrapping paper and cards. There is no law that says you cannot use these items in January for the express purpose of beating a postal rate increase. Now for those of you who have kids, there is the problem of how to photograph them now so they look a year older. For teen boys, try adding a little peach fuzz using those washable magic markers. For toddlers you way want to stand them on a box or cut their hair differently. And of course an outfit change is absolutely a must! The newsletter is a little more problematic. It requires you to call on all your psychic abilities and PREDICT what is going to happen to your family in the coming year! Well I suggest not trying to be too dogmatic about this. Rather than visiting fortune tellers, buying a dozen magic eight-balls, or reading up on Nostradamus, I think you should acknowledge that your Christmas newsletter is based on SPECULATION, or perhaps what you would LIKE to happen. You will need a very large footnote on the bottom that says something like: "* not responsible for the accuracy of events contained herein. Everything subject to Murphy's Law." Or somesuch. You can also have fun with it, maybe including multiple choice options on things like your vacation plans, so your friends and relatives can vote on where they want you to go. (Note: "hell" is not funny.) Also, as you include those upcoming graduation announcements as if they already occurred, you may even start getting money and congratulations in the mail. (A little added pressure, yes, but worth it!) This would also be an ideal time to insert some unrealistic parental expectations, such as "Phinneaus graduated summa cum laude! We're so proud!" (This is a nod to Julia Roberts' son, who may be the only person in the U.S. under the age of eighty who is named Phinneaus. Caveat: The Amish MAY trip me up here. Wouldn't it be cool if Julia Roberts' son grew up to be Amish?) Based on some horrific natural disaster in 2005, I suggest throwing a few of these in your newsletter just to give an added air of realism. Try something like, "of course we were horrified to lose all our relatives on the West Coast due to that awful earthquake/volcano/tsunami, but we donated Hazel's allowance to some Red Cross profiteers who are now using the proceeds for a gambling binge at the Floating French Quarter." You might also want to say something like, "And isn't it just AWFUL about Africa?" without specifying anything further. This is guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate no matter what happens in 2006. I have to ask, though, is there some reason the stupid post office (and I mean "stupid" in the nicest possible way there) can't come up with an even-numbered postage stamp? Don't they realize that if they have to raise the stupid rates (and I mean "stupid" in a snarling kind of way there) that we would just as soon pay an EXTRA cent so we can calculate what we owe more easily? And thus avoid another postal increase for an extra six months to a year while we enjoy the round number? Sigh. The Golden Era of easy postal calculation dates back to the oh-so-hot summer of 1988, when first class stamps were a quarter. Since that time they've been annoying us with stupid (and I mean that in an aggressively psychotic way) rates such as 29 cents, 33 cents, 34 cents (what, those idiots couldn't just make it 35 and stop torturing us? I mean "idiot" in the old-fashioned sense of "person with least amount of common sense in the whole neighborhood"), of course 37 cents, and now 39 cents. Just make it 40! Forty, I tell you! We'll pay it! Gladly! Thirty-nine is STUPID. (I mean that in the sense that obviously you are in no danger of being fired from your job ever, or you wouldn't come up with such a stupid number.) For the record, "drop letters" would be delivered for only a penny back in good old 1855. I know that it sounds cheap, but since you could buy your average cow for a penny, it was really a luxury item to send a "how-dee-doo" card to your aunt back then. (Don't believe me. For all I know cows cost as much as BMWs.) Also they charged MORE if you sent the mail more than 3,000 miles. (But figure, domestically, now much further could you send it? We didn't own Alaska or Hawaii at the time!) By 1932 the rate had risen to 3 cents, and this was in the Middle of the Great Depression! You have to realize, though, that people didn't "send resumes" back then. They just showed up in person, hat in hand, asking if you could spare a dime. (A dime! See, they were asking for a lot!) By the time JFK was assasinated in 1963 you had to spend a full nickel for a first class letter. But by then we had stopped sending polite correspondence and were glued to our TVs in case the Beatles showed up on Ed Sullivan or we tried to send a man to the moon. No wonder Vietnam was so far along before anyone decided to protest it. The Watergate years had first class postage at a dime. Figures! We were having an energy crisis, why not a postal crisis to go along with it? So we got rid if the president but kept the postal rate increase. The disco era saw a jump to 15 cents, but this was the domain of Jimmy Carter, who told us to lower our expectations even as prices were rising. It was a nice even 20 cents in 1981 -- who all got shot that year -- President Reagan? Pope John Paul II? John Lennon? J.R. Ewing? Well, you can decide who's important and who isn't. That zings us past the Unabomer Years to the modern era when you have to pay extra for anthrax-free mail. It is nice to know, though, that the NSA is probably using some extremely high-tech devices to spy on my Christmas newsletters. I hope they enjoy them!

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